"True Story" Film Review
*This review I wrote for a Journalism in Film course and was required to act as if the film had just been released.
“True Story” is a beautifully crafted film based off a memoir of the same name. Funny guys James Franco and Jonah Hill show their more serious side in their exceptional performances as two men who have seemingly lost everything on their own accord.
Hill plays disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel, fired after embellishing a story about the abuse of boys in Africa. He believes he is given a second chance when he gets a call that Christian Longo (Franco), a man who murdered his wife and three young children has been apprehended and has been using Finkel’s identity as his own.
The two men strike a deal that allows Finkel to write a book on Longo’s story as long as Finkel keeps quiet until after the trial and teaches Longo how to write.
Known for his more lightweight, goofy roles in movies like “21 Jump Street” and “Superbad,” Hill proves he’s got some serious talent and isn’t just Hollywood’s go-to funny guy.
Franco has proved himself to be a versatile actor before this film, but he deserves praise for how well he was able to play mind games not only with the characters in the film, but also the viewers.
When Finkel and Longo meet, the first dialogue spoken is about their eyes. Longo has brown eyes; Finkel does not. Throughout the film, Franco is never seen on screen with any emotion in his eyes, while Hill does an excellent job using his eyes to convey authentic emotion.
Neither character would be particularly easy to embrace, but the two esteemed actors make the stories they are telling believable.
It is not just the acting that makes this film a good one, but the cinematography. It is obvious that the filmmakers spent an enormous amount of time on the small details that tie the film together.
Shadows and the choice of colors help to set the tone of each scene. Longo and Finkel are more often than not caught on screen with heavy shadows down half of their faces. Neither man ever admits that he is using the other for his own personal gain, but the use of shadows suggests that both men are knowingly holding back. Finkel’s wife, Jill Barker (Felicity Jones), is almost always on screen with no shadows covering her face until she gets a phone call from Longo, where she is filmed in her home with most of the lights off.
The county jail where Longo is being kept is where he and Finkel share their stories. The rooms are all white. Longo is given the opportunity to tell Finkel the truth in these rooms but chooses not to. We don’t get any clue as to what really happened until Longo is on the witness stand in another almost all-white courtroom, where we find out later that maybe he hasn’t been honest from the beginning.
Whenever Franco is on screen, his hands always find a way into the frame. From the beginning of the film, we know that his character is guilty and his hands constantly being shown in so many frames is a tell-tale sign that he’s not telling the truth.
It’s another story that has been taken and glamourized by Hollywood. It is not fast-paced by any means, but the film should be appreciated for the work put into the technicalities and details.